Pronunciation is the key. Use "an" before any word or abbreviation beginning with a vowel sound, including words beginning with a silent "h" (as far as we know there are only four of these: hour, honour, heir, honest and their derivatives). You use "a" with consonant sounds (eg: unicorn), including words beginning with an "h" which is pronounced (eg: hat, hotel).
(Palestinian Authority president.) We should call him Mahmoud Abbas alone, unless he is referred to in a quotation as Abu Mazen, when we can use the formula "Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen" to explain. In feature-type pieces it would be acceptable to use both terms.
Means indigenous; earliest known inhabitants of a particular country. Use a cap (Aboriginal) if the reference is to the indigenous Australians; otherwise, aboriginal. Likewise, Aborigine/aborigine.
Avoid pro-abortion, and use pro-choice instead. Campaigners favour a woman's right to choose, rather than abortion itself. And use anti-abortion rather than pro-life, except where it is part of the title of a group's name. Heartbeat bill should be carried in inverted commas, attributed or framed as so-called heartbeat bill.
Abu Bakar Ba'asyir
A Muslim cleric, alleged spiritual leader of militant group Jemaah Islamiah, convicted of charges relating to the bombings in Bali and at the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta. Give full name at first mention; subsequently Ba'asyir.
Abu Hamza al-Masri
At first mention only, spell out his full name - thereafter he can be referred to as Abu Hamza. Never shorten the name to "Hamza", even in a headline.
(Radical Palestinian-Jordanian cleric.) He remains Abu Qatada at second reference.
(ie initial cap only) NB: it is not the government's Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. It is independent.
We do use some accents on foreign names - umlauts, tildes etc on French, German, Spanish and Portuguese personal and placenames. But we don't use them on accented words that have passed into English, such as "cafe", "facade", "fiancee".
For legal reasons, be careful about saying one vehicle "hit" another. Err on the side of caution and use collided with/was in collision with. (Collisions involve two or more moving objects; they cannot involve something stationary.)
ie no apostrophe and upper case "A".
Use the abbreviated form of a title without explanation only if there is no chance of any misunderstanding (eg UN, Nato, IRA, BBC). Otherwise, spell it out in full at first reference, or introduce a label (eg the public sector union Unite).
Where you would normally pronounce the abbreviation as a string of letters - an initialism - use all capitals with no full stops or spaces (eg FA, UNHCR, NUT). However, our style is to use lower case with an initial cap for acronyms where you would normally pronounce the set of letters as a word (eg Aids, Nafta, Nasa, Opec, Apec).
There are a few exceptions:
- The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence is capped up ie NICE
- The UK Independence Party is capped up ie UKIP
- Strategic Health Authority becomes SHA ("Sha" looks like a typo)
- Seasonal Affective Disorder becomes SAD ("Sad" would be confusing).
For names with initials, we avoid full stops and spaces (ie JK Rowling and WH Smith).
When abbreviating a phrase, rather than a name or title, use lower case (ie lbw, mph).
using the term "actress" (or comedienne) is OK. Actors is fine if describing a mixed group: A number of people at the theatre were treated for smoke inhalation, including several of the actors.
Acts/acts (of parliament)
Use lower case unless you are naming a specific act - eg: He argued for a new government act on petrol taxes because, he said, the Finance Act had proved a disaster. The same logic applies for a parliamentary bill ie lower case if non-specific, initial cap if named.
(in the year of the Lord) ie unpunctuated. It goes before the year (eg AD800) - with no gap.
As in: "This is the end of the road," he added. Should be used sparingly; acceptable only if it really is the last addition to a set of quotes. And do NOT use with indirect quotes (eg "He added that this was the end of the road.")
Use with care. To say: "He admitted his companion had fired the first shot" suggests we accept what is being said as the truth. A more neutral term such as said is preferable.
NB: when using "admit" in the sense of "plead guilty to", there is no need for a preposition eg "He admitted to manslaughter". Just say "He admitted manslaughter".
Avoid saying "The Taliban admitted/claimed responsibility for planting the bomb." Say simply: "The Taliban say they planted the bomb."
is our preferred spelling - not adrenaline.
Advertising Standards Authority
- and not "Agency".
is our preferred spelling, not "advisor". But advisory - with an "o".
is the correct spelling - do not use airplane, which is the American term. Better anyway just to write plane.
Not synonymous. The verb "to affect" means "to have an influence on" eg Wine does not affect me; "to effect" means "to cause, accomplish" eg A month at the clinic effected my recovery.
is the language (and the adjective). The people are Afrikaners.
Always hyphenate the adjectival, whether it is eg seven-year-old child or 100-year-old coin. Hyphens should also be included in the noun eg There are to be more school tests for eight-year-olds - though hyphens are not necessary in sentences such as The missing boy is three years old.
An age placed after a name should be sandwiched between commas eg John Jones, 61, has been knighted.
is our preferred spelling - and not "aging".
When quoting news agencies, we should use the full description if space allows, ie "Reuters news agency/the Associated Press news agency". But if we are pushed for space, short-forms such as "AFP says" or "he told AP" are acceptable.
Is singular eg The agenda was fiercely contested.
ie initial cap only. It stands for "acquired immune deficiency syndrome". People carrying the Aids antibody are HIV-positive or carrying the Aids virus. Only when they become ill can they be said to have Aids. They are best described as patients - or people with Aids/people living with Aids, and not victims or sufferers (NB: since HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus it is, strictly speaking, tautological to refer to the "HIV virus").
ie in each case, one word - and no hyphen.
air force/air strike/air raid
ie in each case, two words - and no hyphen.
ie with a hyphen. We say the al-Aqsa mosque, despite the fact that "al" is Arabic for "the" so technically we are using the same word twice.
(the main Sunni-backed alliance in Iraq) ie with a hyphen and two "y"s.
Be aware that there are several ways to spell this name.
ie with hyphen and lower case "l".
Also AS-level - the first stage of an A-level, and a qualification in its own right. It stands for Advanced Subsidiary.
And A2 ie without a hyphen - the second stage of A-levels, following the AS-level. The plural is A2s.
Egyptian businessman. Retain the "Al" (initial cap, and no hyphen), as it is part of the family name: Mohamed Al Fayed, also Mr Al Fayed and the late Dodi Al Fayed.
Arabic television channel, based in Qatar. Cap "A" and no hyphen.
is our preferred spelling and the translation should be God is greatest rather than "God is great".
and never "alright" (unless part of a title, as in It'll Be Alright on the Night).
(former Iraqi prime minister) ie not Nuri.
al-Megrahi, Abdelbaset Ali
(Libyan convicted over Lockerbie who died in 2012.) We previously used the full name given in legal documents - Abdelbaset ali Mohmed al-Megrahi. However, for consistency and simplicity, stick to the above. On second reference it is just Megrahi.
(Moroccan student convicted in Germany for being an accessory to the 9/11 attacks) (ie lower case "al" followed by a hyphen). On second reference, just Motassadek.
(Radical British group also known as Islam4UK, banned since January 2010) ie lower case "al", followed by a hyphen and capital "M". Make it clear in news stories that this group and others like it are regarded by the majority of British Muslims as unrepresentative - ideally, through a quote to that effect from a leading mainstream Muslim group such as the Muslim Council of Britain. Preachers associated with these groups should not be described simply as "Muslim clerics", but as radical, fringe or similar.
ie lower case "al", hyphen, and upper case "Q".
Strictly speaking, alternative should be used only when the choice is limited to two objects or courses of action. If there are more than two, we should refer to an option or choice.
ie both caps, no gap. Stands for Assembly Member (plural: AMs). But members of the assembly in Belfast are MLAs (members of the legislative assembly).
"To" a country, or "in" a city (eg The British ambassador to France or The German ambassador in Paris). Always lower case.
should not be used as a synonym for the United States on first reference unless it is clear from the context that is what is being referred to. For brevity, US is OK (eg: The US president is to visit Belfast; Police throughout the US are on high alert).
NB: Do not refer to "North America" unless you specifically mean the continent of North America, which includes Canada, Mexico and Greenland.
American spellings should not be used for job titles (eg "US Defence Secretary Robert Jones", rather than "Defense Secretary"). However, they are retained for the official names of organisations, buildings etc (eg US Department of Defense, Lincoln Center, World Trade Center, World Health Organization).
Take care not to copy and paste them from agency copy. We say: meet (not "meet with"), consult (not "consult with"), talk to (not "talk with"), protest against a decision (not "protest a decision"), appeal against a verdict (not "appeal a verdict"). We say car rather than "automobile", town centre rather than "downtown", shopping centre rather than "shopping mall", dustbin rather than "trash can", lorry driver rather than "trucker", producer rather than "showrunner", mortuary rather than "morgue", power cut rather than "outage". Do not use ouster. We tend not to convert nouns into verbs (avoid "to hospitalise", "to scapegoat", "to rubbish", "to debut"). Our sports teams do not "post" a total (eg of runs) - they score it. News agencies might report that protesters have been throwing rocks - we would use stones. Beware words that have different meanings for US and UK audiences eg: "slated", "suspenders", "pants" etc.
ie apostrophe before the "s". Initial caps.
And not "amidst".
We say "run amok" - rather than "run amuck".
And not "amongst".
If an organisation uses one then so do we (eg P&O). We also use one in matchplay golf scores (eg Faldo beat Woods, 3&2), and in R&B as an abbreviation for rhythm and blues.
"annex" is the verb. The noun is "annexe".
The plural is antennae for an insect's feelers, antennas for aerials.
is a bacterium, not a virus.
is not synonymous with "expect". It means to take action, because of something you expect to happen eg The goalkeeper anticipated the shot by coming off his line.
Is our preferred version, rather than anymore.
indicate either possession (eg: the children's nanny, the emperor's new clothes, journalists' pay) or the omission of one or more letters (eg: It's a lovely day today; Life's a bitch; Who's been sleeping in my bed?)
There is no apostrophe in the possessive "its" (eg: Virtue is its own reward).
Some common abbreviations do not require apostrophes (eg: phone, plane, flu).
Dates do not require apostrophes (eg: 1900s) - unless the century is omitted (eg: the England squad of '66).
Neither are apostrophes generally needed for plurals (eg: MPs, MBEs), but they are for the pluralisation of letters of the alphabet (eg: Our task now is to dot the i's and cross the t's).
For names, use the possessive 's whenever possible - eg: Burns's, Jones’s, Charles's, James's, Dickens's, Phillips's. But be guided by how the last syllable of the name is pronounced - eg: Jesus', Bridges', Moses', Hodges', Griffiths', Walters' - also Wales'.
There should be an apostrophe before the word "time" in sentences such as The game will be played in two weeks' time or They stop work in one hour's time.
The bank (Lloyds) has no apostrophe, but the insurance underwriter and the register of shipping (Lloyd's) does.
Lord's cricket ground has an apostrophe before the "s". Sadler's Wells theatre in London has an apostrophe before the "s".
The football ground in Newcastle is St James' Park and in Exeter it is St James Park. The open space in London is St James's Park (also St James's Palace).
Queen's College in Oxford has an apostrophe before the "s". Queens' College in Cambridge has it after.
Earls Court has no apostrophe for either the building or the area. (The confusing reality is that the building has never had an apostrophe - while the area is likewise written without one by the Ordnance Survey, but with one by both London Transport and the local council.)
The church in Langham Place, London - All Souls' - has an apostrophe. The college in Oxford is All Souls.
You "appraise" something when you put a value on it. You "apprise" someone of something when you inform them about it.
Names beginning with al- such as Bashar al-Assad lose the prefix on second mention - ie Mr Assad. If it's a place name, no need for the al- at all.
Do not use an apostrophe in an Arabic name. Examples: Baath, Shia.
For the founder of Islam, our style is the Prophet Muhammad. Second reference: Muhammad or the Prophet. For the spelling of individual Muslims named after him: there is no simple rule, because the spelling (Muhammad/Mohamed/Mohammad) varies from country to country. But in the Arab world, where Arabic script rules, we should standardise the name as Muhammad.
Bin or bin: Osama Bin Laden has a capital "B" because the Bin Laden is in this case a family name. Bin can also mean "son of". In such cases we should write Abdullah bin Hussein ie with lower-case "b".
Abu: means "father of". We do not follow the practice of some news agencies in using a hyphen - eg: "Abu-Mazen".
Some common men's names:
Our preferred spelling of cities/towns often in the news:
Baghdad - (not Bagdad)
East Jerusalem (not Arab East Jerusalem)
Tehran (not Teheran)
Aran sweaters are traditionally associated with the Aran Islands, off the west coast of Ireland. They have nothing to do with the Isle of Arran in the Firth of Clyde.
Capitals are always used with the full title, here or abroad (eg Archbishop of Canterbury, Archbishop of York, Archbishop of Cape Town), whether or not it is accompanied by the name of the incumbent. If the place name is not used at second reference, you can write simply the archbishop.
The Archbishop of Canterbury is the Primate of All England
The Archbishop of York is the Primate of England
The Archbishop of Armagh is the Primate of All Ireland
The Archbishop of Dublin is the Primate of Ireland
The Archbishop of Westminster can be referred to as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales.
Adjectival phrases defining an area should include hyphens in both metric and imperial measures. Always mention both; the context will determine which comes first: eg The French fishermen denied reports that they had been operating inside the X-sq-km (Y-sq-mile) zone (note: there is no "s" on nouns used adjectivally). Elsewhere, there is no need for hyphens eg The UK government is calling for a ban on fishing within a zone of X sq miles (Y sq km).
Abbreviations should be used throughout, even at first reference. Never write "square kilometres", but always sq km. There is no acceptable abbreviation for "miles", so write sq miles (and, adjectivally, sq-mile). Note that the abbreviation km should never have an "s".
and not "The Argentine". Its people are Argentines (not "Argentinians"). The adjective is also Argentine.
The correct title for the UK army is simply the Army (ie initial cap). But if there is a need to distinguish it from other armies it should be lower case - eg: The government is asking the Army to help fight foot-and-mouth disease, but The British army is taking supplies to the earthquake zone.
Lower case, also, if you are using it adjectivally - eg: Rain has thwarted army efforts to deliver food.
Note that armed forces is lower case.
Foreign armies generally take lower case, but the US Army is the correct title and so takes cap "A".
Most army ranks can and should be abbreviated even at first reference - see list below. Listed separately are those abbreviations to be used only at second reference - after the rank has been spelt out in full at first mention. A third category lists those ranks that we do not abbreviate, even at second reference. But ranks should be spelt out in full (lower case) when they are used without reference to a specific name - eg: The major general attended the meeting.
Abbreviations which can be used at first reference:
If knighted, military figures would be Gen Sir Arthur Whitehead, then Gen Whitehead. If made a peer, they would just be Lord Whitehead.
- General - Gen
- Lieutenant General - Lt Gen (later, just Gen)
- Major General - Maj Gen (later, just Gen)
- Brigadier - Brig
- Brigadier General - Brig Gen (later, just Gen) - this is no longer a rank in the British army
- Colonel - Col
- Lieutenant Colonel - Lt Col (later, just Col)
- Major - Maj
- Captain - Capt
- Lieutenant - Lt
- 2nd Lieutenant - 2nd Lt
- Staff Sergeant - Staff Sgt
- Colour Sergeant - Colour Sgt
- Sergeant - Sgt (Serjeant - Sjt if a member of The Rifles)
- Corporal - Cpl
- Lance Corporal - L/Cpl
- Private - Pte
- Regimental Sergeant Major - RSM
- Warrant Officer - WO
- L/Cpl of Horse - L/CoH
- Field Marshal
Both the US and UK armies are divided into corps - which should be capped up when you are giving a name - eg: The Royal Corps of Signals. Any preceding number should be expressed as a Roman numeral - eg: III Corps. A corps is led by a lieutenant general - written as Lt Gen at first reference when accompanied by the name. If the full title is Lt Gen Sir John Smith, then the correct form at second reference is Gen Smith.
Army corps are divided into divisions. Capped up when you are giving a name - eg: 1st Armoured Division; lower case if the reference is non-specific - eg: Two divisions of troops will take control of the area. A division is under the command of a major general (which you would spell out only if there is no name attached - eg: A division is led by a major general. As a rank, the title is written Maj Gen, even at first reference.
Divisions are commonly divided into regiments or brigades. Lower case if the reference is non-specific; capped up when you are giving a name - eg: The Household Cavalry Regiment; The Parachute Regiment; 7th Armoured Brigade; 101st Logistics Brigade. A preceding ordinal number is not expressed as a word.
Regiments are divided into battalions. The third battalion of the Parachute Regiment is best written as 3 Para - ie contrary to our usual rule, the cardinal number is expressed as a digit, whatever it is (the form "3rd Bn" should be avoided, given that we sometimes abbreviate "billion" to "bn"). The officer commanding a battalion is a lieutenant colonel: Lt Col when accompanied by a name (Col at second reference), but spelt out when no name is attached.
The correct terms with reference to tanks and armour are regiment/ squadron/ troop with reference to the Infantry, they are battalion/ company/ platoon/ section; and with reference of the Artillery, they are regiment/ battery/ troop/ section.
A troop is a group of soldiers, normally about 30. Do not refer to individuals as troops - to say: "Five troops have been killed in Afghanistan" would be wrong. But you can use the term in a generic sense eg: The UK has sent more troops to Helmand province.
In general, these should be lower case except where it's a wider cultural movement, as in Renaissance or Romanticism; named after a person or place - Bauhaus and pre-Raphaelite; or there might be confusion with another usage, as in Arts and Crafts.
are not synonymous. The word "arrest" is a legal term, where someone has formally been taken into custody - usually the first step towards being charged. "Detain" can often mean little more than remove from the streets (and release some time later). Sometimes, it is more appropriate to say held or questioned.
Do not use to mean "approximately" - the best substitute is usually about.
Is not synonymous with "round" - eg: It may drive you round the bend if you work around the clock.
ie follows our usual rule of upper and lower case for pronounced acronyms. It stands for Anti-social Behaviour Order.
(Jewish people of European descent) ie with upper case "A".
Use only for the killing of political and religious leaders. Lesser mortals are killed.
Political assemblies are lower case (the Welsh assembly, the Stormont assembly), except where the full title is given (eg: the Northern Ireland Assembly, the National Assembly for Wales). Assembly members in Wales are AMs. In Belfast, they are MLAs (members of the legislative assembly).
Be careful to ensure this is really what you mean - ie "encouraging or assisting the suicide of another", as the revised Suicide Act of 1961 has it. This is not the same thing as killing someone who cannot do it for themselves - sometimes described as a so-called mercy killing. (This is an emotive phrase which should be used sparingly.)
is a large space rock (probably more than 100m across - smaller ones are called meteoroids). The light phenomenon when an asteroid (or meteoroid) enters the Earth's atmosphere is called a meteor. The lump of rock that hits the Earth's surface is called a meteorite.
ie no hyphen. Never refer to "bogus asylum seekers" unless you are quoting someone.
hyphenated when used to headline a summary of key points (eg: Budget at-a-glance), with initial upper case if you choose to introduce it with a colon (eg: Queen's Speech: At-a-glance). Hyphenated, too, if used adjectivally (eg: An at-a-glance guide to the United Nations). In an ordinary news story, drop the hyphens (eg: He told the court he had taken in the murder scene at a glance).
The first reference to a time should spell it out in full, following our usual convention with numbers below 10 eg: one hour two minutes 23.34 seconds (ie no commas between the units). After that, switch to a more compact style (eg: 1:03:25.67).
Our numbers convention is ignored in events where times below 10 seconds are regularly achieved, such as the 100m. In such cases: all numbers are written as digits, and the word "seconds" need not be used throughout. Eg: X took gold with a time of 9.93 seconds. In second place was Y, on 9.94. And the bronze medal went to Z, on 9.96.
Note that portions of seconds are expressed as decimals, rather than being written out as fractions. But you can refer to "hundredths" in the context of times of under a second - eg: They were separated by three hundredths of a second (and not "0.03 seconds").
means automated teller machine - mainly a US term. It is acceptable only in headlines or direct quotes. Otherwise, use cash machine (but not "cash point" which is a trademark). Hole in the wall is also a trademark and should be used only in connection with Barclays machines.
is most commonly a US term. Substitute lawyer - or if you want to be more specific in the UK, barrister or solicitor.
Attorney General/attorney general
ie (both here and in the US) no hyphen. Capped up if the name of the individual follows. Lower case without the name.
Strictly, one has "an audience of the Queen", which most people will think is a typo. To avoid the problem, say eg: The prime minister went to see the Queen.
Aung San Suu Kyi
is leader of the ruling National League for Democracy in Myanmar. The name is always spelt out in full in her own language, as any abbreviation would be regarded as impolite. We should generally spell out her name in full, but can follow the common practice of using "Suu Kyi" for headlines and "Ms Suu Kyi" in text where this is required for space reasons.
Australia and New Zealand
If you want to use the term, our style is down under: ie two words, both lower case.
Australian Labor Party
ie we use its own spelling, without a "u".
CBE, OBE and MBE stand for Commander, Officer and Member of the Order of the British Empire. So people do not "get" an MBE etc: they are appointed, or they can become a CBE etc. Medals such as the British Empire Medal and George Medal are conferred. A person can be made a peer, a baronet or a knight.
(highest Shia religious authority) ie upper case "A" if used with name, and retain as title on subsequent references - eg: the ayatollah.
(Leader of al-Qaeda). He is Zawahiri (no "Mr") at second reference and in headlines.
Former Soviet republic, now independent. The inhabitants are Azerbaijanis - many of whom, but not all, are Azeris.